Direct vs Graduate Medical School Entry

Last updated: 18/08/21

Medical schools in Australia and New Zealand can be broadly divided into those that accept direct entry from school leavers (also known as undergraduate entry), those that offer places to graduates with a bachelor’s degree (or higher), and those that offer both. In some cases, it is possible to enter a direct entry undergraduate programme after completing (or partially completing) a tertiary degree. This just means that it would take you longer to obtain your medical degree compared to the usual direct or graduate entry routes.

Many high school students often attempt gaining a direct entry, then resort to graduate entry as a back-up plan. While this may be a good plan for some, we recommend that you understand the key differences between direct and graduate entry and carefully consider what factors are the most important to you, before arriving at the final decision. This will help you to prepare for your medical school admission strategically and help shape your career and life during and after medical school.

Read on to find out about:

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Time Taken To Obtain A Medical Degree After Leaving School

Direct entry medical programmes:

Direct entry medical programmes usually have a duration of 5-6 years. The only exception to this is Bond University’s MD (Doctor of Medicine) programme, which takes 4 years and 8 months to complete due to their trimester system. However, this programme comes with a high tuition fee that may not be realistic for most students.

Graduate entry medical programmes:

Graduate entry medical programmes take 4 years to complete. This means that you will typically obtain your medical degree 7 years after leaving high school (i.e. 3 years of bachelor’s degree + 4 years of medical degree, unless you are taking an accelerated route). This can be longer if you are entering a medical programme following an honour’s degree, master’s degree or doctoral degree (PhD).

Hand with money; financial considerations in direct entry and graduate entry medicine in Australia and New Zealand

Financial Considerations

Direct entry medical programmes:

As described above, direct entry medical programmes enable you to complete your medical degree in the shortest time possible. Less time spent studying usually means less payable tuition fees and you can start practising as a medical doctor while earning money at an earlier age.

Graduate entry medical programmes:

As graduate entry medical programmes can only be entered after completing an undergraduate degree, this usually means more tuition fees to pay in total and a delay in entering the medical profession and earning money.

Other considerations:

You should note that the tuition fees for medical schools can vary significantly depending on the type of places you are offered (see Types of Medical Student Places Offered for further details). For example, if you were only offered a domestic full-fee paying place to a direct entry programme, you may want to consider applying for a graduate entry programme (after completing another undergraduate degree) for a commonwealth supported place (CSP). Financial aspects can also depend on whether you can secure a scholarship or not.

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Commitment, Maturity and Preparedness

Direct entry medical programmes:

Direct entry medical programmes may come as a bit of a shock for some students, due to the high level of commitment and professionalism expected and required from medical students. However, it may be argued that the interview process, which is used by most medical schools to assess their applicants, will help screen applicants that are not yet prepared for medical education and career.

Graduate entry medical programmes:

As a mature graduate student, it is more likely that you will have had more time to think about medical education and have a better understanding about what you are getting yourself into. You will be more experienced and prepared for medical education and may find it easier to have a more balanced approach to life and study. This can have positive implications for your study, life and career. Your peers are likely to be the same throughout your medical school journey, and this life-study balance may have a synergistic effect for team-based learning.


Career Perspectives

Direct entry medical programmes:

As a direct entry medical student, your first degree will be in medicine. However, you will still have some opportunities to explore career options outside clinical practice and widen your career perspectives. For example, you could be involved with a research project through an honours programme or summer studentship, which may lead you into the field of medical research.

Graduate entry medical programmes:

As a graduate entry medical student, you will have had more time and opportunity to explore other disciplines in depth during your undergraduate years. This can have a positive impact on your medical education and career. For example, if you’ve studied genetics at the undergraduate level, your background knowledge in genetics will be particularly useful if you train to become an oncologist, as modern cancer therapies increasingly utilise targeted gene therapies. As another example, an undergraduate degree in psychology that teaches you to understand how the human mind works can be useful for virtually all doctors and even more so if you plan on becoming a psychiatrist.

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Stress During Preparation For Admission

Direct entry medical programmes:

It can be stressful to prepare for the UCAT ANZ and interviews on top of your high school study in order to gain a place in a direct entry medical programme. However, once you are “in”, you won’t have the constant stress of worrying about whether you will get in or not, and can focus on your study with a peace of mind.

Graduate entry medical programmes:

As a student seeking a place in a graduate entry medical programme, you will have to maintain a high GPA (Grade Point Average) throughout your undergraduate degree, while preparing for the GAMSAT (or equivalent) and the interview. This can be stressful, especially as you will be uncertain about your future career path.

Other considerations:

One popular option for school leavers is to consider the “guaranteed” or “provisional” pathway that some universities offer. For these pathways, you are guaranteed a place in a graduate medical programme as long as you complete the specified undergraduate degree (or a degree with prescribed papers) at the same institution while maintaining a satisfactory GPA. 

A nurse

Plan B And Beyond

Direct entry medical programmes:

If you are unsuccessful in gaining a direct entry, you can naturally consider graduate entry as a Plan B. You could also consider Healthcare Professions Other Than Medicine.

Graduate entry medical programmes:

If you are unsuccessful in gaining a direct entry, and still want to pursue medicine as a career, you can obtain additional degrees (e.g. Honours, Master’s) and try again. You could also consider Healthcare Professions Other Than Medicine.

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Medical Schools

Medical schools rarely offer both direct and graduate entry medical programmes.  Your options for medical schools become narrower depending on whether you take the direct entry route, graduate entry route, or the provisional/guaranteed entry route. Check out Step Two: Medical Schools in Australia and New Zealand for information on which universities offer programmes for direct entry, graduate entry, both direct and graduate entry, and provisional/guaranteed entry.

Checklist; admission criteria for direct entry and graduate entry medicine in Australia and New Zealand

Admission Criteria

Direct entry medical programmes:

For direct entry medical programmes, you are usually ranked on your UCAT ANZ (domestic) or ISAT (international) score, ATAR score or equivalent, and interview performance. 

Graduate entry medical programmes:

For graduate entry medical programmes, you are usually ranked on your GAMSAT (domestic) or MCAT (international) score, weighted or unweighted GPA, and interview performance.

Other considerations:

Not all direct entry or graduate entry medical programmes will use all the criteria listed above as part of their selection process. Furthermore, some may ask for a personal statement (or portfolio) or request to sit their own assessments such as a situational judgement test and a personal qualities assessment.

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Degree offered

The type of medical degree awarded is highly variable among universities with MD, MBBS, MChD or MBChB being offered in different medical schools. On the bottom line, all these degrees are accredited by the Australian Medical Council (AMC). However, do check Types Of Medical Student Places Offered And Degrees Conferred to see how they are different and if any of that matters to you. You can also find out which degree is offered at each university in the Step Two: Medical Schools in Australia and New Zealand section.

Are you interested in attending a medical school in the UK instead of Australia or New Zealand? Check out Medify’s UK Medical School Admissions Guide.

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